Lost Lexicon: Hair Styling Settings
I haven’t owned a comb since about age 14.
Blessed — or cursed — with kinky hair that runs wild unless shorn to a tight, tennis ball fuzz, my usual morning method consists of a good, vigorous shampooing/conditioning, a good, vigorous towel-drying, then, finally, a good, vigorous whipping around with my own eight fingers to whip it into the kind of shape it’s basically assumed since age 15.
Which is to say, kinky. Tousled.
When the fluffiness starts to take over — and this has happened at ever vaster intervals since my teenage every-three-weeks haircut pace — I visit the barber or, ahem, hair salon, and tame the unruly beast.
I usually bring a cap along, natch, since in about three to five days my scalp will recover from its ritual shaming and again take on the resemblance I’ve grown accustomed to four decades running.
So I don’t give too much thought to haircuts. They’re a necessary, and seemingly distant, circle on the calendar. Like going to the dentist. Or getting the car tuned up.
And I assume, once I’ve been visiting the same doctor or mechanic or hair stylist, that they’ve got the hard parts in hand. I’ll drive up, sit down, zone out, and voila! Slightly refurbished me.
But having another person dependent on your attention and sensible judgment when it comes to their appearance has made me a bit more aware of the finer details. Or at least the information I’m lacking. At the salon these days, this mainly consists of reciting a series of numbers that are the stylists’ shorthand for just how your blood descendants are going to make it through their time in the chair.
And I confess: I don’t have the slightest patience for it.
What Happened to Short on Sides, Long on Top?
Running the usual, hectic Saturday errands this week, with clothes shopping to do, and the lawn waiting, and packing for a business trip ahead, I herded my kids’ heads into the local Sportclips and presented them to the awesome stylists there.
My preparation for such encounters usually begins and ends with my usual threat to “shave your head as bald as a knee.” To which my kids, lately, have started to agree. But by the time we arrive at the salon sanity has taken hold. That, and the distinct impression of my wife’s glare.
So I turn my little sheep over to the professionals to be shorn.
It’s just the professionals want so much information from me. And I… I just… can’t.
They shoot out casual check-ins like “so, a #3 on top and 2 all around. Back rounded?” And I know where they’re coming from. I just can’t play along. “Um… it’s been a little longer since his haircut,” i’ll say. “And it’s summer, so why don’t we go for something really short. High and tight. Get him through the next few months.”
To which they stare blankly and repeat, “So, #3 and then #2?”
I take a breath. “Let’s just try something new today, shall we? Maybe a buzz? Tennis ball fuzz? Something short for summer.”
Stony, well-coiffed and manicured silence. The Las Vegas Golden Knights whiff in their first attempt at the Cup on screen and the waiting room starts to feel really, really crowded.
Look, I don’t speak barber, OK? I don’t have any feel for the numbers on the clipper guides and how my offspring will emerge once they’ve been run over their scalps.
Which isn’t precisely true.
Let’s Just Trust Your Judgment, Not Mine
Until my kids got older and started having formative opinions of their own (namely: Dad is more than likely teasing 85% of the time, so wait for clarification) I counted among my duties putting them in a high chair once every couple months, clipping a towel around their shoulders, and working the clippers myself.
I don’t know that I developed any facility with them, necessarily. At times I reversed the order of the clippers when working from back to sides to top. Or, probably left the taper thingy in the wrong (or right?) position. Sometimes I kept their sideburns. Sometimes I didn’t. Most of the time with intent. Hey, they never lost an eyebrow and Mom mostly approved.
They’re cute. Hair grows back.
So, yeah. I’m a rank amateur when it comes to this.
Hey, I grew up with the proverbial bowl cut. Maybe even literal bowl cut. At the hands of grandmothers who made great office administrators, Moms who are capable artists and Dad consummate salesmen.
I’ve been called cute. My hair always came back.
I guess what I’m insisting on is that the decision not rest with me. Or even the finer details. In this collaboration of parent and patient (awesome, devoted, talented) hair styling professionals I’ll do my best, customerly job to communicate a vision of my kids looking sleek and cared for and ready for church, school, summer, someday… Homecoming dances… and if you can just nod, mentally draw from that store of numbers and settings and techniques and take it from there, I promise to wait in a designated chair, scroll through my phone patiently, and take proud pictures when all is finished.
Because I am never going to know — or care — about this as much as you do. I just won’t. Somewhere in the space reserved for such settings I’m imagining I’m Elton John preparing a set list in 1978 at the Hollywood Bowl, or I’ve got my heart set and the full specs for a Tudor Black Bay Heritage Bronze model, or I’ve just relearned the ideal meta description length for Google SEO.
It’s not that I can’t be bothered. It’s just that I have a layman’s understanding of what a head should look like after a turn in the barber’s chair. And you get to work the magic that makes it so.
And a good magician never shares their secrets, right?
Or else I’d be capable of wielding the wand. And we don’t want that.